It was a diverse group of people who came together in Brisbane last weekend for a conference that celebrated the many partnerships and connections that have been forged and become part of the life and mission of the Good Samaritan Sisters over the past 161 years.
Of the 60-plus people who participated in the conference at Lourdes Hill College on October 13-14, many were Good Samaritan oblates, associates and sisters, but there were also staff from schools founded in the Good Samaritan tradition, friends interested in knowing more about the Good Samaritan charism and the oblate movement, and ministry colleagues from other religious congregations.
While there was a strong contingent of Queenslanders among the group, many participants travelled from as far afield as Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
Good Samaritan Sister Sonia Wagner of Brisbane said one of the hopes of the conference organising group was to share with participants the story of the Good Samaritan Sisters and to highlight how others have collaborated with them in their life and mission.
“We wanted to honour and celebrate the extensive and rich Good Samaritan networks,” said Sonia.
“Good Samaritans have never been on mission alone nor have we ever felt ourselves to be working alone.”
She said another hope was that participants would have the opportunity to “get to know one another a little better”, “celebrate our existing connections and collaboration” and “form new connections”.
Over two full days, the group participated in a variety of experiences under the theme “Pilgrims, pathways and possibilities”. The program included a dramatic re-enactment of the beginnings of the congregation and the coming of the Good Samaritans to Queensland, presentations from speakers as well as time for reflection and discussion, prayer and liturgy.
Participants heard from a number of oblates from South Australia and Western Australia who shared aspects of their journeys as oblates: how they began as oblates; what had inspired and sustained them; and the ongoing call to be an oblate.
They also heard from Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner, who briefly outlined the evolution of the Good Samaritan Oblate movement, describing it as “a new springtime in the life of the Good Samaritan congregation”.
“In 1987, 130 years after our foundation, the congregation was called to explore ‘New ways of belonging’,” she told those gathered.
“Subsequently, the sisters opened their convent doors to welcome other non-vowed men and women to share their spirituality more deliberately as associates and, in some cases, to live community with them.
“At the dawn of the 21st century, Sonia, who was the leader at the time, extended yet another new way of belonging – that as oblate. The first oblates made their commitment at St Scholastica’s in Sydney 16 years ago in 2002.”
Today, Patty said there are 78 oblates and 12 oblate candidates, all living in Australia.
“In the first 16 years of the congregation’s life we had 44 sisters,” she continued.
“The oblate numbers continue to grow while the number of sisters (we’re currently 206) continues to decline. I wonder when the tipping point will come when oblates outnumber sisters.”
Patty went on to share some of her hopes for the future of the Good Samaritan Oblate movement, but before doing so, invited those gathered to share their hopes, too.
Tracey Langford from Queensland said she appreciated Patty’s invitation to be part of the conversation about future possibilities for the oblate movement. She has been an oblate for 10 years and currently works as a Campus Minister at St John’s College, Nambour, a former Good Samaritan School.
“As an oblate I was excited that we were having a gathering in my backyard – Brisbane. I was attracted to it as it was an opportunity to be with the Good Sam family and share in the tradition,” she said.
“I was excited to hear where the charism was heading and how could I be part of the future.”
For Penny Carroll, who made her oblation in Brisbane in 2009 and is now part of the growing oblate group in Western Australia, being part of the conference was an “enriching” experience. She appreciated “forging new connections with those present and past in the web of Good Samaritan history”.
“The dramatic tableaus developed by Sonia Wagner and Peita Ward gave us insightful snapshots of this early history in Sydney and in Queensland,” she said.
“It was a joyous and creative way to capture those early times.”
Sharron Kotz of Victoria, whose connection with the Good Samaritan Sisters spans 23 years, eight of them as an oblate, said there was a “great atmosphere” at the conference. She felt enriched by the “wonderful mixture of people” and was struck by how much the oblate movement had grown across the country.
“While there were questions about the way forward [for the oblate movement], there was a great sense of hope,” she said. “People are open to future directions.”
Sharron was particularly encouraged to hear others speak about the importance of engaging younger people in the oblate movement, something she has long been interested in exploring.
“How do we share [Good Samaritan Benedictine spirituality] with young people? This excites me,” she said.